Is reading level a Google ranking factor?

Every SEO professional knows that content is king. Not all content is created equal.

But does the readability of your content affect how Google ranks you in search results?

There are many misconceptions about this. But what exactly is readability?

If you’ve done any content creation, chances are you’ve come across readability tools like the popular Yoast SEO WordPress plugin. These valuable tools evaluate your copy and generate statistics such as passive voice, paragraph length, subheadings, and transitions.

Included in this analysis is the Flesch Reading Ease (FRE). The FRE is a scale between 1 and 100, where 100 is the easiest to read and 1 is hard to understand.

For example, this piece scored 59 on the FRE scale, equivalent to ninth grade reading. This score takes into account two variables: word length and sentence length. In general, longer words and sentences will lower your FRE score.

While easier-to-read content will perform better with visitors, what about search engines? How much do you need to focus on improving readability to ensure high rankings?

let’s see.

If you have questions about other ranking factors, download the Google Ranking Factors: Fact or Fiction ebook to learn the full story.

Claim: Reading level as a ranking factor

In 2010, Google added a short-lived “reading level” filter to its advanced search feature. But the idea that readability affects search engine rankings is much longer than that.

The rise of Google’s machine learning models BERT and MUM, designed to understand language and content quality, seem to suggest that it still matters.

But what is the truth? Should you be obsessed with turning all the red and orange circles in your reading analysis green? Will eliminating passive sentences and tweaking your vocabulary to sixth grade level make your page soar to the top of search engine results?

Evidence against readability as a ranking factor

Despite claims to the contrary, reading level does not affect your search rankings. Google’s senior webmaster trends analyst John Mueller confirmed this in a 2018 Google Webmaster Hangout:

“From an SEO standpoint, it’s probably not something you need to focus on, in the sense that, as far as I know, we don’t have that basic algorithm that just counts words and tries to figure out what reading level is based on these realities. some algorithms.

But this is something you should figure out for your audience. “

FRE is a base score with only two variables, so this makes sense.

To test this, Portent conducted a study analyzing the reading levels of more than 750,000 items across 30,000 desktop search queries. The study found no correlation between Google search rankings and page reading levels.

So, SEO pros can ignore FRE, right?

Do not.

Readability has an impact on user experience, which plays an increasingly important role in SEO. If your site’s visitors have trouble reading and understanding your content, they’re more likely to leave.

Articles that are challenging to read are also less likely to have incoming links pointing to them, an important ranking factor.

To quote John Mueller’s hangout again:

“A common example is a medical website. You want to provide medical information to the public because you know they are concerned about it. All of your articles use these 20-character medical terms. Technically, it’s all correct.

You can calculate a reading proficiency score for that content. You come up with a number.

But it’s not a matter of Google using reading proficiency scores and saying it’s good or bad. Rather, does it match what people are looking for? And if no one is searching for those long words, no one will find your content. Or, if they do find your content, they’ll say…I don’t know what that means. “

So it looks like while the reading level of your content will have some impact on your rankings, it’s not a ranking factor.

Our conclusion: Reading level is not a ranking factor

Is reading level a Google ranking factor?

While not a definitive ranking factor, reading level is critical to content strategy. Each audience has different preferences for content complexity and reading level.

write to your audience

The key to successful web content is usefulness. To rank high, you must demonstrate that your pages answer search queries better than anyone else.

The way to do this is to know your audience.

For example, let’s say you’re advertising a company that sells electron microscopes. In this case, you might be using more complicated vocabulary than selling fenders.

Just be careful to avoid talking to your audience, it will alienate them as quickly as using a $10,000 word.

Writing good content is a skill every SEO professional should develop. Adapting your writing to a specific reading level isn’t a ranking factor, but using words that don’t resonate with your audience will always be a problem.

Any other questions about what is and isn’t a ranking factor? Download the Google Ranking Factors: Fact Or Fiction eBook.


Featured image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Magazine

Ranking Factors: Fact or Fiction? Let's bust some myths! [Ebook]Ranking Factors: Fact or Fiction? Let's bust some myths! [Ebook]

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